WT’s Nelson Steps Down as Dean of Nursing, Health Sciences

Chip Chandler May 24, 2023
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WT’s Nelson Steps Down as Dean of Nursing, Health Sciences

Copy by Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124,


CANYON, Texas — After 13 years, the dean of West Texas A&M University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences is departing to become the founding dean of a college at Abilene Christian University.

Dr. J. Dirk Nelson, who joined WT in 2010 as dean, will begin July 1 as the first dean of ACU’s newly restructured College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, ACU said May 18.

In January, ACU announced three new colleges and the moving of some departments to “further the growing national reputation of ACU’s academic programs, capitalize on expansion in certain areas and group similar programs together for better collaboration,” according to a university news release.

“I have been doing a good amount of reflection on where the College has been along with possibilities for the future,” Nelson said in a recent email to his faculty and staff. “Wholeheartedly, I feel the College’s accomplishments rest with you, for whom I am most thankful.

“Yet I have learned that life is a series of transitions, and it’s time for me to do just that,” Nelson continued. “For the past 13 years, I have sincerely enjoyed WT and serving you as well as our students. My wife Renda and I will leave the Panhandle happier and better than when we arrived, in no small part due to each of you.”

WT officials expect to make a formal announcement on Nelson’s successor in coming weeks.

“The dedication and work ethic Dr. Nelson has displayed at WT and the College of Nursing and Health Sciences is very much appreciated,” said WT President Walter V. Wendler. “His contributions have made WT a premier nursing and health sciences institution. He has been a vital and energetic part of our community.”

Dr. Neil Terry, provost and executive vice president of academic affairs, agreed.

“Dr. Nelson has been an omnipresent force, serving WT with distinction,” Terry said. “Several legacy efforts are directly attributable to his vision for how a university enhances the health and welfare of the regional community. I appreciate him and know his collaborative style will be an asset to his future leadership endeavors.

Nelson has worked in higher education since 1989, holding multiple administrative appointments. He has taught such classes as kinesiology; health promotion; mechanical analysis of motor skills, nutrition for human development, physiology of exercise, fitness testing and prescription, lifetime wellness, and motor development.

He has been involved in multiple community programs and initiatives such as the Ronald McDonald House, the Nurse Family Partnership, Healing the Family Center; the Panhandle Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition, the Special Olympics, the American Heart Association, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Type One Area Diabetes Support. He also has been a member, teacher and elder with the University Church of Christ.

Nelson’s areas of research have included disease prevention and behavior modification, human athletic performance, student development, pedagogy, academic leadership and personnel management.

He serves as an editor for the Journal of Nursing & Healthcare, as well as the Symbiosis Online Journal of Nursing & Health Care.

In his time at WT, Nelson led one of the University’s most acclaimed Colleges.

Established in 1972 and graduating its first students in 1974, WT’s Department of Nursing currently provides about 70 percent of nurses employed throughout the Texas Panhandle.

WT nursing graduates, over the past five years, have averaged a 97 percent score on the National Council Licensure Examination, required by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to test the competency of nursing school graduates in the United States and Canada. Nationally, the average is 85 percent; in Texas, it’s 87 percent.

In 2021, the Department of Nursing officially moved to the Harrington Academic Hall WTAMU Amarillo Center, 720 S. Tyler St., a strategic shift to increase the University’s already sizeable impact on healthcare in the Texas Panhandle.

The Amarillo Center now houses 250 undergraduate bachelor of nursing students and about 20 nursing faculty and staff. In its 25,000 square feet, the Baptist Community Services Nursing Education Floor includes state-of-the-art simulation labs and other innovative educational spaces.

The BCS Nursing Education Floor was named following a $3 million gift from the High Plains Christian Ministries Foundation, the largest such gift in the foundation’s history.

The health sciences wing of the College encompasses the Department of Communication Disorders and the Department of Sports and Exercise Sciences, as well as offering a degree in health sciences.

The Department of Communication Disorders, which offers undergraduate and graduate programs, has been nationally recognized a top speech-language pathology program. It is home to the WT Speech and Hearing Clinic, an outpatient clinic offering speech, language and swallowing therapies, as well as hearing evaluations and amplification for all ages.

The Department of Sports and Exercise Sciences offers undergraduate degrees in athletic training, exercise science, applied sport and physical education teaching, as well as a graduate degree in sports and exercise medicine.

The undergraduate program in health sciences focuses on the healthcare field/industry, health sciences, and clinical science; as well as elective courses in business, humanities, and social sciences. Health Sciences is offered in a traditional format on the WT campus in Canyon, at the Texas A&M University RELLIS Campus in Bryan and online.

Meeting regional needs, particularly in healthcare, is a primary goal of the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

That plan is fueled by the historic, $125 million One West comprehensive fundraising campaign. To date, the campaign — which publicly launched in September 2021— has raised more than $125 million and will continue through 2025.




About West Texas A&M University

WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. WT, a Hispanic Serving Institution since 2016, boasts an enrollment of about 10,000 and offers 59 undergraduate degree programs and more than 40 graduate degrees, including two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 14 men’s and women’s athletics programs.